Have you ever had one of those days where everything seems a little more difficult? You lose the keys, then the wallet. You are in a bad mood, restless and constantly distracted at work or school. Although these are experiences that many of us share, for people with ADHD, they can be a daily struggle.
Could CBD help with ADHD? So far, we have very little or no research on the subject. However, studies have looked at the therapeutic potential of CBD for certain symptoms associated with this disorder. The results are preliminary, but they suggest promising avenues for future research. Let’s get into the details.
What is ADHD?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health defines it as a “brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.”
Although the exact causes of ADHD are unknown, it could be influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors. On a structural level, people with ADHD can show important differences in certain areas of the brain. Several studies also suggest that dysregulation of the neurotransmitter dopamine probably plays a role.
There are three main types of ADHD: inattentive subtype, hyperactive or impulsive subtype, and combined subtype. Although they are slightly different, all three can negatively affect quality of life.
ADHD is characterized by multiple problems with executive functioning. People with ADHD often have trouble concentrating and struggle with emotional regulation.
ADHD of the inattentive type is sometimes called ADD (attention deficit disorder), since hyperactivity is not present. This variant is more common in women and girls. Symptoms include:
– Difficulty concentrating and easily distracted
– Fight to maintain order
– lose things frequently
– Poor time management
Hyperactive ADHD is more common in boys and men. Symptoms include:
– Restlessness and nervousness
– Poor impulse control
– Talking excessively and interrupting others
– Nervous energy
– Reduced sense of danger
People with ADHD of the combined type show symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive types.
ADHD often causes problems at school and work. The disorder can hinder career goals and negatively affect personal relationships. This can result in low self-esteem and depression. In fact, ADHD often occurs alongside other disorders. Common comorbidities include mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and learning disabilities. The effects of some of these conditions can worsen ADHD symptoms, leading to a vicious and demoralizing cycle.
Diagnosis and treatment
ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood and symptoms may appear as early as preschool age. Despite this, many people are not diagnosed until adulthood. Late diagnosis of ADHD is more common in the inattentive subtype, as the lack of hyperactivity can make the symptoms less obvious.
ADHD is usually treated with stimulant medications such as methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and amphetamines (Adderall, Dexedrine, Vyvanse). Many people with ADHD report a paradoxically calming effect with stimulants. However, the exact treatment mechanism is unclear. Since they increase dopamine, stimulant medications can address dopaminergic dysregulation thought to be related to ADHD.
Unfortunately, these substances are potentially addictive. They can also have adverse side effects. Patients may experience insomnia, muscle tension, and anxiety, along with rare but serious side effects such as high blood pressure.
CBD benefits for ADHD
Although no primary research has been done on CBD and ADHD, secondary research indicates that CBD might be helpful in relieving certain symptoms associated with the disorder. It might also help lessen the side effects of standard ADHD medication, such as insomnia.
Remember: you should always talk to your doctor before starting a new treatment or combining CBD with other medications.
The role of the endocannabinoid system
Many adults with ADHD self-medicate with cannabis. A related study investigated the resulting effects on cognitive performance and emotional regulation. The researchers found that adults with ADHD “may represent a subgroup of individuals who experience reduced symptoms and no cognitive impairment after cannabinoid use.” This indicates that people with ADHD might respond differently to cannabinoids.
The study was inconclusive and focused on whole plant cannabis rather than CBD specifically. However, it raises questions about a possible relationship between ADHD and the endocannabinoid system (ECS). A second study, published in 2013, also touched on this issue. It indirectly supported a link between endocannabinoid receptors and regulatory control associated with ADHD.
What is the endocannabinoid system? The ECS is a regulatory system made up of cellular receptors and neurotransmitters known as endocannabinoids. It spreads throughout the body, including the brain, and has been shown to modulate many biological processes. CBD interacts with the ECS through multiple mechanisms. If a link between ECS and ADHD is confirmed, CBD could be a fruitful area for research into natural treatments for the disorder.
ADHD and anxiety
About 50% of adults and 30% of children with ADHD also suffer from anxiety. Anxiety can exacerbate certain symptoms of ADHD itself, such as restlessness and trouble concentrating. Attention problems and impulsivity can make social interaction challenging, leading to stress and a poor self-image. People with ADHD and Generalized Social or Anxiety Disorders can feel overwhelmed, riddled with a perfect storm of symptoms.
CBD could provide a shelter from the storm. A 2015 study found that subjects with social anxiety disorder (SAD) demonstrate an increase in negative self-evaluation when speaking in public. However, this increase was virtually eliminated by supplying CBD.
Another study showed that CBD was safe and effective in treating the anxiety of a 10-year-old girl with post-traumatic stress disorder. Given that ADHD often appears at a young age, it is notable that this study featured pediatric administration of CBD. In fact, it’s one of the only studios that does. If you have a child with ADHD, be sure to consult a medical professional before deciding to give them CBD.
ADHD and lack of sleep
Many people with ADHD struggle to get a good night’s sleep. One study found that 67% of subjects suffered from some form of insomnia. The exact nature of this link is unknown, but there are many factors that could contribute to restless nights.
For one, insomnia is a common side effect of many stimulant medications. People with ADHD may also have trouble calming their minds at night. Since insomnia exacerbates ADHD symptoms, this could lead to a vicious cycle.
CBD shows promise in helping sleep. The same study that looked at anxiety in a young PTSD patient also found improvements in sleep quality. This is supported by additional research establishing a link between CBD, anxiety, and sleep.
Paradoxically, CBD could also combat excessive sleepiness during the day. This could make it an interesting option for people with ADHD who suffer from sleep disturbances and tiredness during the day.
ADHD, impulsivity and substance use disorder
Many adults with ADHD are more susceptible to substance use disorder. This can make healthcare professionals reluctant to prescribe stimulant medications that carry a risk of addiction. Substance use disorder is a relapsing disease. It is characterized by “susceptibility to stress, elevated anxiety, and impaired impulse control.” Specifically, these symptoms share common elements with certain types of ADHD. The two diseases have also been linked to dopamine.
Studies have shown that CBD “highly modulates” the mesolimbic dopamine system. CBD has also shown promise as an addiction treatment, reducing drug attraction and impulsivity in animal models. Although the link with ADHD has not yet been established specifically, this could be an interesting area for future scientific research.
CBD and ADHD: avenues for future research
ADHD is a complicated disorder that is still not fully understood. Researchers have studied a number of possible genetic and environmental causes, but there are few conclusive conclusions. Dopamine appears to play a role, but its exact mechanisms of influence are unclear and other factors are likely to be present.
Part of the problem is that ADHD presents as a diverse and often variable set of symptoms, and many of these symptoms mimic other disorders. It is further complicated by the fact that ADHD occurs alongside depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, and other conditions that overlap in terms of presentation.
On the other hand, CBD is becoming more and more popular as a potential treatment for a wide variety of ailments. Although the research supporting its therapeutic potential is largely preliminary, it is equally promising. The diversity of CBD’s effects is likely due to its interaction with the endocannabinoid system, which appears to play a regulatory role in many different biological functions.
CBD and ADHD seem to share a level of complexity when it comes to their mechanisms of action. The potential benefits of CBD appear to overlap with many ADHD symptoms (and its comorbid conditions).
Although neither study has focused on CBD as a treatment for ADHD, both are being increasingly scrutinized by the scientific community. We really hope that new discoveries will emerge in the future. If you have problems with anxiety, insomnia, impulsivity, or other frustrating symptoms associated with ADHD, talk to your doctor about trying CBD oil.